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Radical Behaviorism

Radical behaviorism is the term given to that branch of psychology that follows the philosophy of American psychiatrist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990). Although brilliant, Skinner has remained a controversial figure in the annals of science, since he proposed that all animal behavior is determined, and that internal psychological processes are irrelevant.

Radical BehaviorismSkinner based his work off of the groundwork laid in classical conditioning, as best exampled in the work of Ivan Pavlov. Skinner believed that classical conditioning could not explain many basic human behaviors, called operants. Operant conditioning, which Skinner developed, has two purposes, to increase or decrease the probability of a behavior reoccurring in the future and is accomplished by adding or removing one of two types of stimuli: positive or negative.

Skinner redefined the classical definition to include everything that an organism does, including thinking and feeling. Thinking and feeling especially, Skinner felt, were not explanations of behavior, but behaviors themselves and caused by environmental factors.

Radical behaviorism has remained influential on a wide range of schools, including animal training, human resource management and education. Skinner’s work has been used in applied behavior analysis, a therapy for children with autism that has shown great promise in helping these patients.

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